13th March 2016: Arsenal crash out of FA Cup to impressive Watford

Welcome back. So Arsenal’s hopes of winning a third successive FA Cup went up in flames earlier today when they lost 2-1 at home to a Watford side I thought were deserved winners and simply out-played us on the day.

The Hornets were organised, compact, pressed us ferociously in packs and in the right areas, and carried a constant threat on the counter-attack, mainly through the impressive partnership of Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo up front. But bar the last few minutes of the game, we were poor, looking impotent in attack and an accident waiting to happen at the back.

Arsene Wenger went with a very strong starting line-up (which suggests he’s as resigned to Champions League elimination as the rest of us, despite what he says in public) with both Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil selected, but even with our two big guns on the pitch, we still lacked firepower.

The former’s struggles for form continued, whilst the latter was probably our best player on the day. Yet both were involved in creating our goal. Sanchez found substitute Danny Welbeck and he played a brilliant one-two with Ozil before firmly side-footing the ball into the far side-netting to give us a glimmer of hope in the 88th minute.

By that point were were two-nil down having conceded twice in 13 second-half minutes. First, Deeney glanced a throw-in to Ighalo who span Gabriel and fired past David Ospina from close range, before Deeney again played provider, brilliantly holding up the ball and laying it off for the on-rushing Adlene Guedioura to send a first-time thunderbolt past a helpless Ospina and into the roof of the net at the near post.

We can’t say we hadn’t been warned of Watford’s attacking abilities because there had been a few dangerous attacks by the visitors earlier in the game that narrowly failed due to mis-timed final passes.

Arsene left it five minutes before sending on three subs at the same time, introducing Welbeck, Theo Walcott and Alex Iwobi for Olivier Giroud, Joel Campbell and Mohamed Elneny. Despite Walcott again contributing as much to proceedings as Jimmy Carr does to HMRC, Iwobi and Welbeck’s introduction almost instantly made us seem more likely to get a goal I felt.

In the end we managed one, Welbeck missed a sitter moments after scoring, Iwobi hit a post in the build-up to that miss, and we exited the Cup for the first time in three seasons. I would sum up our display today as reactive, when it needed to be proactive, and although I thought it was far from our worst performance in recent times (we did manage to produce a few slick moves over the course of the 90 minutes), some of our play was infuriatingly average.

Chambers’ crossing was sh*t, and both full-backs’ understanding with their team-mates ahead of them was non-existent. Sanchez tried hard as usual but was brilliantly shackled by Watford’s right-back I thought, eventually having to concede defeat in that duel and switch over to the right. Up top Giroud was easily contained and just looked so off the wavelength of team-mates it makes you feel he should be no more than a plan b or c, last resort, get-it-in-the-mixer option for a club with supposed aspirations of success like Arsenal.

At the back, Gabriel seems to have taken a lot of stick for his defending and although he was lucky to escape a red card for a two-footed tackle on Deeney in the first half, and then failed to stop Ighalo from scoring despite being tight to the striker, I actually thought Mertesacker was worse. His lack of aggression is astounding for a centre-half playing in English football and even if I can appreciate his coolness can be an asset at times, more often it’s a liability. Too often he appears to be hoping opponents will miss in the midst of action, rather than making sure they do miss by, er, defending. It’s weird. He’s a reluctant defender – yet he’s a defender.

To make matters worse, Sp*rs beat Aston Villa today to move six points and a mammoth 13 goals ahead of us in the Premier League standings – it’s been another baaaaaaaaaaaaad day to be a Gooner. Unfortunately, with Barcelona to face on Wednesday, things will probably get worse before they can get better.

I can see why Arsene wants to give it a go against the Catalans and select a strong team, because we have to basically, whatever the odds of us progressing, yet with Everton away so soon afterwards, ruining our hopes in all three competitions in the space of a week seems very, very likely right now.

See you next week.

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